________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 15 . . . . March 16, 2007


Death at Deacon Pond.

E.M. Alexander.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2006.
189 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-897073-42-1.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Joan Marshall.

** /4


In the quiet of her room, Kerri gave in to her aching heart. Her chest clenched in a twisted knot wound so tight that although her shoulders heaved with the force of her crying, she made almost no sound. Falling to her knees, she curled into a protective ball and buried her face in her hands. A ragged breath tore through her as she squeezed against the pain, willing her tears not to fall.

She sought out her father's picture. Brushing away the moisture from her eyes, she carefully picked up the frame and sat on the edge of her bed. "We're not doing great without you, Dad," she whispered, with a shaky smile, "nope, not so great." It was an average photograph but the normalcy of it was why she cherished it. Her father, at the grill, wearing his favorite, faded baseball hat, a shiny metal spatula clutched in his hand that lay folded across his chest. But it was his smile that Kerri loved the most. It was a smile that came too easy not to be genuine. How could he smile like that if he wasn't happy? People smile for pictures, she reminded herself, but some smiles are only lies.

Like Seth's smile? She put the picture down and lay back on the bed, letting out a deep sigh and staring sightlessly at the ceiling. What am I going to do about Seth? Kerri could not believe that the police could possibly think Seth could be a murderer.

Kerri Langston, a small-town American high school student, is still mourning her father's supposed suicide of three years previous when a recluse at the edge of town, Mark, is murdered, implicated in the marijuana trade. Her long-time friend, Seth, is a suspect, but Kerri cannot believe it. Her mother rejects Kerri's visions, but images of the faces of Mark and her father keep appearing to Kerri, drawing her to Mark's old house and the bushy forest around it. Warned away by police officer Dylan Roberts, Seth's father, Kerri persists in her sleuthing until she catches Roberts at the game of transporting girls and drugs. In a satisfying conclusion, just before he falls off a cliff to his death, Roberts boastfully admits his participation in these crimes and his responsibility in Kerri's father's murder. Seth reveals his part in leading the police to his father's activities; the captured girls are freed; and Kerri reconciles with her mother and sister.

     Kerri is an anxious, reflective teen who overanalyzes everything, her thoughts often paranoid and fearful. Alternately repelled and drawn to her visions of the dead, she finally acts, only to be captured by the bad guy. In the end, her courage and ingenuity save the day.

     The setting of small-town America is neatly done, and American teens will no doubt recognize it. Canadian teens will struggle a bit with the idea of a sheriff, the heavy anti-pot morality and the claustrophobic atmosphere of Deacon's Pond, set in a bushy ravine right at the edge of town.

     Although the intended audience will understand Kerri's need to clear her father's name and clarify the manner of his death, not to mention her prickly relationship with her mother, male readers in particular will groan over Kerri's anxious, obsessive thoughts. Even female readers who might see themselves reflected in Kerri's anxiety over relationships will probably begin to skim along through the middle of this novel to get to the actual action and climax.

     The Prologue and a few other chapters are told from the killer's point of view, an effective way to raise interest and the general creepiness factor. The swearing in the book is used by startled and frightened characters the way it would be in real life.

     Older middle school/junior high school students who want a thriller/mystery whose solution is gradually revealed by the persistence of the protagonist may enjoy Death by Deacon Pond.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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